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Best-selling author Daniel H. Wilson on naming robotic villains and high-end gaming PCs


Every week, a new and interesting human being tackles our decidedly geeky take on the Proustian Q&A. This is the Engadget Questionnaire.

In the latest installment of our weekly smattering of queries, best-selling author and roboticist Daniel H. Wilson talks corporate Kool-Aid and the evils of stock market AI. Join us on the other side of the jump for the full gamut of responses.

Bestselling author Daniel H Wilson on the naming robotic villains and his soft spot for highend gaming PCsWhat gadget do you depend on most?
Like everybody, I'm addicted to looking at my phone every five minutes. Sometimes, I'll just sit hunched in the dark and stroke its gleaming metallic curves. It is... precious to me.

Which do you look back upon most fondly?
I'm nostalgic for that big, stupid, brown TV remote from the 1980s that my brother and I used to call "the box." It was connected to the television with a brown cord, so fighting over it was more of a "King of the Hill" multiplayer mode, rather than the "Capture the Flag" mode that came later with wireless remotes.

Which company does the most to push the industry?
I try not to drink Kool-Aid. It stains your lips and makes you look like a little kid.

What is your operating system of choice?
Once, I was a computer science undergrad and I lived in a wild land of Unix and Linux and dual boots. These days I am a humble man, content to live simply on the parcel of land granted to me by Mac OS X.

What are your favorite gadget names?
In my novel Robopocalypse, I named the villain "Archos." It came from the Greek root Arkhon, which means ruler. Later, I found out that there is an Android tablet maker with an identical, and equally awesome, name. Good for them.

What are your least favorite?
Too many to count. I feel sorry for all the startups that have to play the name game. That's why I'll dump a few here, for free: skankler, spoodly, cryognesis, canbobula, dirbler, mastivore and folliculitus. The last one is an infection you'll get from drinking champagne in hot tubs thanks to the money you made from those product names I gave you.

Which app do you depend on most?
I depend on theScore for my quietly-ignoring-all-humans-while-checking-sports-scores needs.

"I'm nostalgic for that big, stupid, brown TV remote from the 1980s that my brother and I used to call 'the box.'"

What traits do you most deplore in a smartphone?
All these new notifications and reminders and blatant attention-grabs are very annoying. Plus, it makes my phone seem desperate.

Which do you most admire?
I really like the Apple Photo Stream sharing service, because it lets me share pictures of my kids with the six or eight people in the world who actually care.

What is your idea of the perfect device?
There is no perfect device, but anything that gets iteratively better has my respect. Perfect is never good enough for long.

What is your earliest gadget memory?
It's summertime, about 6 o'clock in the morning. I'm sitting cross-legged in my underwear on the cool hardwood floor of my bedroom, playing Super Mario Bros. as birds start to sing outside
my window.

What technological advancement do you most admire?
I'm proud of the roboticists working on autonomous vehicles. Ask yourself, "What could I invent to save the most lives possible in a developed country?" Short of curing heart disease, creating a new world of safe transportation is the answer.

Which do you most despise?
If you have an advanced degree in artificial intelligence and you spend your days crafting trading bots that comb the stock exchanges for exploits, then congratulations! You're officially an evil douche bag.

What fault are you most tolerant of in a gadget?
Fragility. I always feel a sense of relief once my gadget gets its first ding, scratch or crack. I believe in using things up until they are gone, and that means beating the crap out of whatever gadget is within reach.

"I would love it if my phone did not give my butt the same dialing capacity that it gives my fingers."

Which are you most intolerant of?
Any conniving, underhanded corporate BS designed to grab more personal data from my life or money from my wallet. Apple, you can force a whole little wooden bookshelf down my throat, but there isn't crap on it but the New York Times. And there never will be.

When has your smartphone been of the most help?
Lost in a foreign country, you can surreptitiously check the map on your smartphone. Not only do you not look lost, you look like you were smart enough to have a working phone in a foreign country. Or am I fooling myself?

What device do you covet most?
High-end gaming PCs always tempt me with their neon-illuminated windows and ominous glowing logos. I look into their hearts and see gleaming processors, bubbles dancing in liquid-cooling tubes over savagely etched heatsinks, and I start grabbing for my credit card. I'm looking at you Digital Storm -- send me a coupon, why not?

If you could change one thing about your phone what would it be?
I would love it if my phone did not give my butt the same dialing capacity that it gives my fingers.

What does being connected mean to you?
As a freelance writer, I have been trained to cling to my phone in classic Pavlovian fashion -- by occasionally receiving very good news (i.e., a reward preceded by a ringing bell). Being connected means there is a tiny probability of receiving good news -- like playing the lottery on a drip feed.

When are you least likely to reply to an email?
I don't respond to emails when I am drunk or angry or any combination of the two. So if it takes two weeks for me to reply to you, well, I've probably been angry and drunk.

When did you last disconnect?
I disconnect every night between 11 PM and 6 AM. That's healthy, right?

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